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Japan soccer chief gets coronavirus after Europe, U.S. trip

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TOKYO — The head of Japan soccer, who is also the vice-chairman of the Japan Olympic Committee, has tested positive for the coronavirus and apologized for possibly infecting others.

“I have slight fever and pneumonia … but otherwise I’m doing fine,” Kozo Tashima said in a statement released by the Japan Football Association on Tuesday.

Tashima visited Europe and the U.S. on football business from Feb. 28-March 8. He got himself tested after learning on Saturday that Serbian soccer association president Slavisa Kokeza, whom he said he was seated near at the UEFA general meeting in Amsterdam, was infected with COVID-19. Swiss soccer president Dominique Blanc, who also tested positive on Saturday, was also there.

Tashima apologized to Japan Football Association officials, staff, and journalists whom he has had contact with at conferences and meetings for the past week without knowing he was infected.

“By facing squarely with the disease, I hope to contribute to eliminating prejudice against the new coronavirus,” he said. “I will cooperate in various research for the disease, and I will be back.”

The 62-year-old Tashima first visited Belfast, Ireland, to attend an annual meeting of the International Football Association Board. He had a presentation at the UEFA meeting in Amsterdam on March 2, went to the U.S. for women’s soccer events, and arrived back in Tokyo on March 8. He went to his office several times last week to prepare for a board meeting.

“In Amsterdam and elsewhere in Europe in early March, there was not as much nervousness over the coronavirus as now, and everyone was hugging, shaking hands and exchanging kisses,” he said in the statement.

He said he disclosed his infection because he had to inform people he had contact with, and that he didn’t want to cause trouble to his neighbors. Such revelation is unusual in a country where prejudice against infectious diseases are strong, and patients and their families most often remain anonymous to avoid harassment.

“At a time when many people around the world contracted the virus and are fighting the disease, I have decided to firmly face this,” Tashima said.

For most people the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of those who are infected recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

More coronavirus connections to soccer:

SheBelievesCup Preview: Olympic hopefuls look to make impact

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New U.S. Women’s National Team head coach Vlatko Andonovski would no doubt like to win the SheBelievesCup, getting the title back after losing it to England last year.

But more importantly is getting to test his players in a competitive tournament, just a few months before he has to select his best 18 for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. The U.S. kicks off the SheBelievesCup on Thursday with a match against England at Emporia Stadium in Orlando. The U.S. next faces Spain on Sunday at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. before finishing against Japan on March 11 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.

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Versatility is the name of the game, with five fewer players available for the Olympics than at the World Cup, so some of the fringe USWNT players will be looking to use this tournament to show that they’re more than just a left back, for example.

Tierna Davidson, an up and coming outside back for the USWNT and the Chicago Red Stars – and the youngest player in the squad – is looking to prove she can play all across the backline. Mal Pugh, a striker who’s rise to fame coincided with her starting at the last Olympics, has seen her star fall far from the sky. Now back in contention, can she push her way into the 18 to Tokyo?

On the other end, Andonovski has some huge decisions to make this summer about his veterans. Carli Lloyd is 37 and slowing down, though still scoring goals like she’s 10 years younger. In all, 10 players in Andonovski’s 23-player squad for the SheBelievesCup are 30-years old or older, including captain Becky Sauerbrunn, Megan Rapinoe, and starting goalkeeper Ashlynn Harris.

For those three, their sports – presuming they’re fit – are probably safe for the Olympics. But we’ll have to see what Jessica McDonald, Tobin Heath, Christen Press and Ali Krieger all do this tournament and into the summer to cement their places in the 18-player squad. It’s also important for players who aren’t here, like Sydney Leroux and Alex Morgan. Morgan is due to give birth this month, but plans on being back on the field by the start of the Olympic tournament.

This U.S. team will face good tests in England and Japan, as well as the up and coming Spain. England is without some of its World Cup stars from last year, including Lucy Bronze, but there’s plenty of talent on the field. Phil Neville will get to use Georgia Stanway, Ellen White, and Nikita Parris, among many others.

For Japan, it’s a veteran squad sprinkled in with some youngsters. 14 of the 23-player squad have at least 15 caps or more, and Japan captain Saki Kumagai of Lyon will look to anchor the backline. Spain’s star striker, Jenni Hermoso, is a former club teammate of Krieger, Harris and Press, so each side will have a decent idea of what the other brings.

So on top of the overall results, there’s plenty to watch for at the 2020 SheBelievesCup. How this USWNT squad plays, if it can carry over the momentum from the fall victory tour into now, and who makes a name for themselves are just a few topics to keep an eye on.

52-year-old striker Miura extends contract for 35th season

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One of the longest careers in soccer has been extended after 52-year-old striker Kazuyoshi Miura signed a contract with J-League club Yokohama FC on Saturday.

Miura, who will turn 53 on Feb. 26, will enter his 35th season this year.

Miura played in just three matches last year and did not score any goals but extended his record as the oldest player in the J-League.

Miura joined Yokohama FC in 2005 and in March of 2017 became the oldest player to appear in a professional match at the age of 50 years and seven days, catching global media attention by surpassing England legend Stanley Matthews’ longevity record.

Nicknamed “King Kazu,” Miura played for Brazilian club Santos and in Italy with Genoa earlier in his career, and represented Japan’s national team 89 times, scoring 55 goals.

Yokohama FC open the season on Feb. 23 against Vissel Kobe.

Giovinco, Gomes lead Al-Hilal to Asian Champions League title

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Familiar names Bafetimbi Gomis and Sebastian Giovinco are now Asian Champions League winners after Al-Hilal outlasted Urawa Red Diamonds 2-0 Sunday, giving the Saudi Arabia club its third ACL title with a 3-0 aggregate victory.

Gomis (goal) and Giovinco (assist) were involved in the scoring, with the latter setting up Saudi Arabia international Salem Al-Dawsari for the opener.

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It’s Al-Hilal’s first crown since 2000, the Saudi side re-joining Pohang Steelers as the most successful club in the competition.

Japanese side Urawa was bidding to win its third title and second in three years.

Former Watford man Andre Carrillo scored in the 1-0 first leg.

Copa America roundup: Uruguay tops Chile; Full knockout bracket

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Ecuador and Japan drew to allow Paraguay to sew up the final knockout round spot, sending Miguel Almiron and Co. into a match-up with Brazil.

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And Uruguay rode Edinson Cavani’s goal into the other side of the bracket, moving ahead of Chile in a tight match.

Ecuador 1-1 Japan

There was a lot to like in a match with 30-plus shots and the ultimate prize of a match-up with Brazil on Thursday in Porto Alegre.

Shoya Nakajima put the Asian side ahead a quarter-hour into the match, but Angel Mena provided an equalizer before halftime to put both sides in danger of failure to reach the knockout rounds.

Chile 0-1 Uruguay

Cavani scored for the second time this tournament as Uruguay claimed first place in Group A and a knockout round meeting with Peru.

Cavani’s deftly flicked header of a Jonathan Rodriguez pass pushed Uruguay above Chile, which had won both of its group matches and now meets Colombia on Friday.

Knockout round schedule

June 27
Brazil v. Paraguay

June 28
Venezuela v. Argentina
Colombia v. Chile

June 29
Uruguay v. Peru

July 2
Brazil/Paraguay v. Venezuela/Argentina
Colombia/Chile v. Uruguay/Peru

July 6
Third place playoff

July 7
Final